on a Meaders face jug

meaders face jugLanier Meaders was one of Georgia’s last practicing traditional potters. A fourth-generation potter, he grew up in the Mossey Creek district of White County, one of the state’s major traditional pottery centers. His face jug is an altered vernacular one-gallon jug to which applied clay additions form the features of a caricaturized face. Contrasting white teeth and eyes are of unglazed kaolin. The jug is covered with a smooth alkaline glaze that Meaders developed using some purchased ingredients rather than the traditional locally gleaned, hand-milled ones that produced the runnier dendritic ash glaze historically associated with the region. While the origins of face jugs are obscure, they are vernacular to South Carolina and the deep South and were made by both slave and European-descended potters.

Meaders grew up around his father Cheever’s pottery, but turned to professional potting only in his 50s and seemingly accidentally, when he stepped in for his ailing father during the filming of a Smithsonian documentary. That event and the large order the Smithsonian placed for face jugs for their first Festival of American Folklife put him on the map for the larger culture and created demand for his face jugs, permanently identifying him with the form. Meaders made the full range of vernacular utilitarian forms, and regarded the popularity of his face jugs with a bemused reticence—he said “Seems like the more useless I make something, the more they’ll trample each other to get it.”

His face jugs do, however, show remarkable variation and development over the several decades he produced them. This example is particularly naturalistic and well molded, showing contour around the chin, cheeks, and neck and detailed expressive features. Meader’s mother Arie herself had come to clay later in life (after a different time that Cheever was sick) and produced expressive animal forms from assembled wheel-thrown parts and vases with molded additions. Perhaps Lanier’s remarkable face jugs are best understood as synthetic of his maternal and paternal legacies.

 

—from Innovation and Change: Great Ceramics from the Arizona State University Art Museum, edited by Peter Held (2009).